Andreina Barajas Novoa, a junior sociology and political science major and a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council, and Diane Ariza, vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and a co-chair of the DEI Advisory Council, answer 10 questions about the council, social justice and how all affect change for the campus.
1. What should students and faculty understand about the social justice initiative at Southern?
Andreina Barajas: Faculty should understand it’s not always their place to advocate on behalf of students. Their job is to serve our needs and help us find our voices. I want students to know that the social justice initiative is ours. We have the power to make an impact at Southern and in our communities.
Diane Ariza: When you’re coming to Southern, it’s not just about being respectful, dignified and civil to each other. This is paramount to how we do our work regardless of our discipline and training. Our intellectual, demographic, gender, racial, and ethnic diversity makes us stronger as employees and as leaders in this world.
2. What’s one thing that you want students and faculty to know about the [DEI] council?
AB: I want students to know, and feel comfortable holding us accountable when we’re not doing enough. I want faculty and staff to not get offended when a student does call them out. We all have room to grow. Accountability can give us that.
DA: This is an advisory council that advises and is trying to set the tone. The tone was already set before the advisory council was established, but this council is advising the president leadership team and it serves as guidance. We are only as good as how the university engages with the council.
3. How has the council advised on campus? What are some of the key points?
AB: At this point, we have researched and met with a variety of faculty and staff on campus to discuss our mission and goals with them and how their roles on campus might intersect with our work. [In fall 2021] we met with the president’s leadership team to present our research and begin a conversation about how to best implement our proposals. Our main goal is to continue that relationship with the president’s leadership team to be in a better position to implement our proposals and serve the needs of students.
DA: For the first few months, it was all about engaging with each other. That was the training and educating for ourselves and then we split up into working groups to talk about a priorities document. The work was to talk about how we communicate. How are we going to attend to the microaggressions on campus and have spaces for faculty, staff, students, alumni to talk to each other and be better?
4. What are the necessary measures to get students involved in social justice?
AB: We need the space, resources, and accessibility. We also need to understand intersectionality and how various clubs on campus too often fail to recognize what this means. A wider understanding of intersectionality in addition to space, resources, and accessibility should encourage more students to get involved and understand what it means to be part of a social justice movement.
DA: Some staff members recognized that black students were communicating on social media that there were hiccups, trauma and pain. These individuals were anonymously talking to each other, and yet, they didn’t have a [safe] platform to share that. The Real Talk–Diversity in Higher Ed podcast came out of that tension. It’s run by students, and the podcast intends to invite more students on there to talk with us.
5. Do you think that part of the social justice movement is trying to adhere to the student body’s current invisible veil of trauma?
AB: The pandemic has highlighted the need to address student issues through a different lens, especially when it comes to mental health. When it came to counseling services, students were able to access mental health services from the comfort of their homes. Southern should be open to creating and continuing to offer online classes and services for students who may find it difficult to commute to campus because of work or other reasons.
DA: I have students that are coming to me saying: ‘Diane, I don’t hear it. I don’t see it. Can you be more engaged with this population? I’m strong, but I’m still very much debilitated by this trauma that I’m facing.’ Let’s be attentive that you’re coming back, you’re on campus, but that doesn’t mean that you’re strong yet.
So, let’s acknowledge that we’re not there yet.
6. What does it mean to be an anti-racist university?
AB: The council was established to dismantle systemic racism and oppressive hierarchies. To be an anti-racist university means to invest in the DEI initiatives of the council and students. This is how we will become an anti-racist university while addressing individual, interpersonal, institutional, and structural racisms.
DA: We have to acknowledge racism exists, white supremacy exists, and we have to dismantle those structures, processes and protocols that did not have underrepresented folk in mind. If we can agree to that as a community, then we have to say how will we dismantle that.
7. What does it look like to educate Southern students and staff on the various cultures of our community for minority and majority to feel represented?
AB: We should explore the possibility of making a required cultural diversity course. If students are not going into the spaces on campus where they can learn about different cultures, then we need to expose them to it in the classroom.
DA: It has to start with faculty and staff. They have to be role models for students, and educational training has to happen. Understanding racism is to understand white identity. Let’s be real about that. That has to be embedded in the curriculum.
8. What can Southern do to facilitate more conversations and discussions?
AB: Amplify student voices on campus. Southern needs to continue encouraging students to get involved. With more voices and representation, it will enrich the social justice conversation on campus.
DA: Conversation, safe spaces, brave spaces. You can be enlightened and maybe not agree on everything but could agree to disagree in a civil way. If we can’t do it here, where are we going to do it? The Multicultural Center, the SAGE Center, the Disability Center. I find the classroom has to be that space too because that’s where students have to go.
9. What is the process for students or faculty to come to DEI and get advising?
AB: As of now, students have to search “DEI” on Southern’s website to find us. Upon searching us and finding our page, you may contact a member of the council by clicking the link on their name, which gives you their email.
DA: We believe that the skill set that these individuals have, they should be helping others, including students, whether it’s a mentor, whether it’s to advance the DEI work in your area. For faculty who serve, that’s easier because students are going to reach out to them automatically. But there’s not a structure systematized to do that. It’s so difficult and heavy and it takes a toll on you emotionally.
10. What are the steps for students and faculty to talk about uncomfortable things that are happening and try to resolve change?
AB: We need to ensure that the space we are having them in is welcoming. Faculty and staff are tasked with creating a welcoming environment for all students. If we want to spark conversation about current events, personal experiences, then faculty and staff must make themselves approachable and accessible.
DA: Bias, microaggressions and discrimination happens. Some students know where to go in Student Affairs but there’s not a clear path for how to have those conversations and where to go. We want to clarify that, and we want to have a reporting structure that students and faculty staff know where to go.